An approach to fair ad blocking · 2009-05-11 18:04 by Wladimir Palant
Update: I summarized the feedback in a separate blog post. Please comment only if you have something to add.
As I stated many times before, my goal with Adblock Plus isn’t to destroy the advertising industry. In the end, the Internet does need money to run and ads are still the most universal way to distribute that money. The only problem is that ads are becoming increasingly intrusive and annoying as webmasters try to maximize their profits which is the main reason people install Adblock Plus. So the idea is to give control back to the users by allowing them to block annoying ads. Since the non-intrusive ads would be blocked less often it would encourage webmasters to use such ads, balance restored.
Now it isn’t a secret that Adblock Plus hasn’t been performing particularly well towards that goal. While users can theoretically choose not to block ads on some sites, most users simply install Adblock Plus, choose a filter subscription (which will block all ads without exceptions) and forget about Adblock Plus. Which is totally understandable — everything works so why should they do anything now? Currently only a tiny minority of users has Adblock Plus installed (somewhere around 5% of Firefox users) but the current trend discriminates webmasters in favor of users instead of restoring the balance.
There were quite a few discussions on that topic recently, most notably this proposal for considering webmaster’s wishes (which has obvious issues) and this forum topic discussing among other things the criteria for acceptable ads. I started thinking about this again and got an idea that should be relatively easy to implement and might actually work. First the requirements on the solution:
- The user should have the final decision. If we allow webmasters to specify which ads the user should view or whether users with Adblock Plus should be allowed to visit their sites, they will try to maximize their profits — and very soon users will be confronted with intrusive ads everywhere or locked out of all sites. At which point somebody will fork Adblock Plus to “make it work again” and we are back at square one. On the other hand, in my experience most users don’t want to deny webmasters their income — as long as it doesn’t disturb their browsing too much.
- Adblock Plus shouldn’t require the user to make decisions all the time. Most users hate making decisions, especially when there are other things needing their attention. You should ask for as few decisions as possible, rest of the time things should “just work”.
- When the user is asked to make a decision, all the necessary information needs to be supplied to make this an easy decision.
- Reverting the choice should be easy as well and the user needs to be reassured about that.
Now to the suggestion. When the user visits a site and some ads are blocked there, Adblock Plus could look for the following tag in the page source code:
<meta name="advertising" content="ask" />
(Update: meta tag changed, as suggested by Arne and other commenters)
A webmaster should insert this tag into his pages if he thinks that the ads used on his site aren’t intrusive. Adblock Plus will then check the browsing history to see whether the user frequents this site (this could be specified for example as “visited the site on three days of the last week”) and then display a notification like the following (unless a notification for this site was already shown recently):
First button will open a new window and load the page the user is viewing right now without blocking anything. The user then has the choice between “Yes, disable Adblock Plus on example.com” and “No, I don’t like this.” The latter should have the effect that the user isn’t asked again for this site (same as choosing “No, thanks” in the notification). Clicking “Ask me later” button or simply closing the notification will have the effect that the notification pops up again after some time (maybe a day).
I think this question won’t come up too often so it won’t become annoying. Also, I think that a negative decision wouldn’t be too common — provided that the webmaster has done his homework and the ads are really acceptable. Some open questions remain of course:
- There are some Adblock Plus users who just don’t want to see any ads at all. For those, there should be a way to opt-out of this feature — but it probably shouldn’t be too obvious, otherwise it will be used just for convenience. I think, the alternatives are a visible option (displayed in Adblock Plus menu as well as in preferences) and a hidden preference in about:config explained in the FAQ. The former might be too obvious, the later might bring the wrath of my users upon me. Which one should it be? Update: I think, the feedback is already clear on that — a visible option.
- How can I make reverting a positive decision easy? Many Adblock Plus users never find the Adblock Plus menu, so they aren’t aware of the “Disable on …” menu item there. Explaining it in the notification or the preview window is pointless, nobody will read that explanation. There should be an extremely obvious way to revert. Update: One option would be adding a context menu item “Adblock Plus: Block ads on this page again” on pages that have been whitelisted, this should be easy to find for most users.
What do you think, will that work? Will a significant number of users be convinced to whitelist their favorite sites? And will the webmasters be interested?
Please leave your comment either in this blog or in the forum (no registration required, simply click “post reply”). The forum should be better suited if your reply requires some discussion.
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